Category Archives: Rants

PARKS AND RECREATION, or CAMPAIGN FOR CITY COUNCIL BY A BAND OF DELUSIONALS?

According to the servants of truth and accuracy over at Wikipedia, the phrase “jumping the shark” refers to ” the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery” and/or “a particular scene, episode or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of ‘gimmick’ in a desperate attempt to keep viewers’ interest.” If the expression is used, happy days are not being had. It’s usually also a signifier of a program long outliving itself, but in a few select cases is a sign of having utterly incompetent people at the helm (and in even rarer cases, can be an amazing tool which brings about brilliance, much in the case of the greatest vampire program of all time, ANGEL, and it’s best season, S05).  In the curious case of the government employed misfits from Pawnee, IN, no exact situation seems to aptly fit the still somewhat humorous wipeout this show has been rollerskating toward with manic aplomb, and yet this is no longer the same show, the same set of characters, or even a plausible world in which to exist, as a fictitious group of coworkers or as couch spuds. “Shark Week” no longer just applies to that annual event on the Discovery Channel or your monthly flow of raw meatloaf blood, ladies- it’s that thing of when you’re marathoning PARKS AND RECREATION and catch the tail of season three and all of season four within a span of seven days.

Supposing we use Occam’s razor to figure out where the derailment first occurred, one has to look only so far as Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope, a slave to ambition so blind she may as well be a headless chicken wearing a race bib. The current deputy director of the parks and recreation department, Leslie has been so gung-ho about anything, everything she happens to feel passionately about that she often finds herself with a foot in her mouth and a problem in hand, there to be saved by her dedicated coworkers. Unlike the show’s network counterpart THE OFFICE, where the boss was a psychopathic sociopath named Michael Scott, who occasionally had moments of sensible clarity and morality, Leslie Knope has always been a well-meaning fighter for justice, comradeship, and playground slides with amble wood chips at the base. And through her meaning well, the hijinks of living in the third fattest city in the nation (which notably has almost no obese people anywhere in sight, ever) and accomplishing the hard tasks have gone to display that despite the dysfunctions of her entire team, they’re good people who know what is important in work, in personal endeavors, in life itself. So why it that Leslie is in a relationship more unhealthy than the one she yearned for with the sorely missed Mark Brendanawicz? Why is Ron Swanson so willing to compromise his beliefs and ideals at every drop of a wildly strewn canopy of hats? Why do these people go to work less often than the characters of FRIENDS? Why is any of this happening?

To answer my own questions, I’d first like to inform you that you are completely wrong when you say that Adam Scott’s Ben Wyatt (I’m still profoundly perturbed he deserted his own starring vehicle, the excellent PARTY DOWN, for this) is right for Leslie, that Leslie is right for Ben, or any other insane rumblings you may have because Mary Sue is your life coach. These two characters literally have no direct connection to one another, no mutual attraction to the other person, and are quite literally denying all higher brain functions to be with one another. If you get honest for a moment, they coupled because Ben, tired of traveling so much, felt like an orphan, and came to love the city of Pawnee, for it being comprised of people as mentally disturbed and broken as he is. Leslie Knope, as it just so happens, loves Pawnee to such a horrifying degree that she embodies the city, thus Ben loving Pawnee means that Ben loves Leslie. That’s it. They didn’t connect over some shared series of experiences or by simply thinking the other was sexy- Ben fell for a city out of dysfunction and Leslie fell for the next guy to show her any level of attention (that isn’t Sewage Joe) out of desperation. Hell, Ann and Tom, who have no business even being in the same room together, make more sense than this cockamamie catastrophe. It’s not cute.

Ron Swanson, the mustachioed man with, once upon a time, the muster and might of a missile, may as well be a sentient teddy bear now. In the three seasons prior, his cool, calm, collected demeanor and unwaveringly desert dry wit made his character a cult icon and a veritable poster-boy for all things masculine. So why is he now willing to drop $10,000 to rent a few vans for a few hours, serving both the political ambitions of another, and thus, given the stipulations of Bobby Newport winning, his own, and sinking so low as to line the pockets of someone who means to extort him? Because his mother’s name is Tammy, his first wife’s name is Tammy, his second wife’s name is Tammy, and so is, apparently, every single person in the show’s writers room. You can say the words “character development” until you’re blue in the face and know even less of what it means than you already don’t, but he has completely turned around from his core foundation, all in the service of the writers’ moronic need to make the campaign the season’s primary focus, instead of it being Leslie’s personal arc which others occasionally come into. The Leslie/Ben thing is just wretched writing, but Ron, to cater to the awful writing, is his own shark jump. That man may resemble Ron Swanson, but it’s not him. It hasn’t been him for a long time, my friends.

A few episodes prior to the season finale, coming next week, we saw Aubrey Plaza’s April Ludgate at the office, poorly performing the job of Leslie, who cannot be bothered with her own employment because she’s an egomaniac and is resembling Michael Scott more and more with each passing episode, but is that enough? The show is titled PARKS AND RECREATION, but, as this article title implies, that’s not really the case. Aside from the debacle at the animal shelter, I cannot recall a single instance this season where anyone has done their job or dealt with the problems that made the city of Pawnee a character itself the first three years, whereas it’s now merely a backdrop to dealings and proceedings that have nothing to do with anything to do with the show or it’s premise, but for the fact that these things are inexplicably occurring. Going back to the reference I made earlier, a PARKS AND RECREATION where the main character doesn’t work for the parks and recreation department and no one else even shows up for their job is like FRIENDS being about a group of mortal enemies who would sooner go to prison for murder than be made to socialize with the others. Irony is for Shakespeare and that one hipster loitering your local shopping mall, two distinct levels of people this show isn’t good enough to pander to in it’s current state.

Why is this happening? I don’t know. I don’t work for the show, the network, the studio, nor do I know anyone involved in it’s production. If I had to guess, though, it’s because being creative is considerably more work than being easy, and going off on a tangent is remarkably simple, be it on paper, on screen, or in a classroom where you have to fill ten minutes of a time with the four minutes of an actual presentation you prepared. How can it be remedied? This I know! To be succinct, Leslie must lose the election. If she loses the election she, as a character, will be forced to feel an actual emotion for the first time in a year, the fallout of the loss to Newport will change the landscape of the parks and recreation department, it’s employees, and creates a new focus for not just doing the job they have been charged with in the first place, but in getting things back to how they were before. In this, the show is breathed new life and Leslie can still come to sit on the city council; Bobby Newport could take a trip to wherever he goes with the beautiful girls and boats, and simply disappear, giving Leslie the title, the power, and all the juice she needs for her camera testimonials to be as stupid as they have been as of late. Don’t think that’s a viable way to get her political career jump-started? Is it not realistic enough? Well, that big, lavish campaign bus with custom graphics all over it which she used for but a single day wasn’t either, and you didn’t seem to mind.

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Flunking Out: Why NBC’s Community Won’t Graduate

It wasn’t long ago that watching the National Broadcasting Company on Thursday nights was like the giant box of Laffy Taffy next to the cash register at your local Mexican eatery, providing a sweet treat to offset the refried slop occupying the room, and for just cents. A great deal requiring no extra convincing, that transaction was always started with Dan Harmon‘s tale of a motley crew and low education, COMMUNITY. Built around the premise that students of different ages, ethnic and sociopolitical backgrounds, and mental dispositions form a study group, clash, and are then educated by their shared experiences, it quickly became an internet and pop-culture darling for it’s brassy (for mainstream) sensibilities and meme literate attitude. Rightful so, but as quickly as it came it also went, alienating many fans who were it’s first champions, myself included, to the point of no longer watching and even pumping out explanatory essays at request, which is why I’m now here. Where and how did a genuine show with massive potential turn itself into a contemptuous ruse?

COMMUNITY has always been a show massively interested in itself, like the main character Jeff Winger, played by Joel McHale, an accomplished lawyer found out as a fraud and forced to obtain an actual degree so that his life may one day return to being one of success. Usually the coolest head in the group, Jeff more often than he would like to admit succumbs to being befuddled by his own bullshit to the point of meltdown for himself and the gathering of peoples he considers friends, in some ways family, and the show itself mirrors this. In various interviews creator/showrunner Harmon has likened his mess of a program to CHEERS and GILLIGAN’S ISLAND but no amount of wanting Sam Malone to have a coconut fall on his head makes either association true or apt as there is one critical difference between these programs. As silly as the plots on that lone, deserted island and as familiar the bar patrons in Boston, those shows both knew exactly what they were and invested heavily into establishing a baseline of disbelief which neither would transcend, no matter how easy or convenient it may have been. They had thematic anchors. COMMUNITY, on the complete other hand, has gone out of it’s way to destroy any such semblances it had to a world that can rely on itself, with the ultimate seed of it’s destruction being planted when there was a spoiled food-induced zombie outbreak that became the most heavily referenced event in the show, even if nobody remembered it. The latest and greatest case in point: in an attempt to seem unnecessarily clever, and failing utterly, the episode “Remedial Chaos Theory” took so long to edit that it aired out of order and many of those obtuse enough to still watch the show legitimately and rightfully believed that multiple timelines were actually at play. The reality is that the writers are so self-involved (another mirror to the show) that while attempting to beat themselves in a pissing contest they successfully confused anyone and everyone paying attention, which leads to the next layer of this specific problem which is preoccupation with continuity. A necessity of serialized dramas, a strong continuity is a reward to the dedicated viewers for their time and energies, providing a deeper and stronger understanding of not just the characters but the world they belong to, an already moot aspect. In COMMUNITY it’s a parlor trick so convoluted that even as events domino, the characters stay so painfully static that they could all be plucked directly from the pilot and placed into any episode from any season with no discrepancies. Even in order, there is absolutely no order here.

The characters themselves are another gargantuan problem here. Ignoring (which we’re not) specifics like Alison Brie‘s Annie Edison being as close to downing a bottle of pills and going on a rampage as she was on the first day of school despite countless mentions of her “growing up,” Gillian Jacobs‘ Britta Perry realizing how vapid she is in numerous instances but still mindlessly waving a false flag of caring about legitimate causes every chance given, that Danny Pudi‘s Abed Nadir is some savant of media knowledge who literally knows so little that he poses questions and theories about a television series he loves, FARSCAPE, while anyone who has watched the series once is rolling their eyes at how insidious his lack of knowledge of it is (in addition to all the other entry level data he doesn’t come close to possessing), and so forth down the line- they’re supposed to be believed and simply cannot be. More caricatures of cartoon characters than actual people, not a single one of them is relatable or sympathetic. The bounds of the absurdity and unlikableness of this gathering of miraculously functional mental cretins is ever expanding, exacerbated weekly by the previously mentioned self-involvement of the writers, mirrored. A fun gimmick from the show FRIENDS was the titles. For ten seasons the writers kept with the tradition of naming each of the two hundred thirty-six episodes based on what occurred in it, all starting with the words “The One”, such as “The One Where the Stripper Cries.” If COMMUNITY were to adopt this habit over 80% of the episodes would share the same exact title, “The One Where the Group Needlessly Fights Amongst Itself and Nothing Changes.” These people and their collective dynamic couldn’t be more phoned in if the writers tried, and they do! Very hard.

Tearing apart a turkey is easy when you’re famished but this Thanksgiving feast with all the trimmings has been turned into an exercise in dumpster diving, more than watching Ken Jeong being given any type or responsibility to carry a plot would initially indicate. If the meat and gravy were simply taken back to the kitchen the fix would so simple as carrying them back out to the table, but it’s not. Like your student loan debts, the bankruptcy here is compounding on itself. The characters have cashed out their logic worse than those of HEROES, contradicting themselves so that the writers don’t have to write anything believably, as illustrated by Troy and Abed being unsuited to live together and then suddenly being fit to out of the convenience it would bring. It’s a gross lack of foresight and an excruciating over-eagerness for escalation of the asinine that took the yummy cranberry sauce and shoveled it down the drain. When the cast initially met on screen they lived in a world very much like our own, which then found it’s voice in a slightly heightened reality where the fantastic can exist but was used sparingly, as a tool for accentuation. Now the world of COMMUNITY makes that of SCRUBS look like a serious medical drama. When it began, Jeff worked at a law firm with other humans but it would shock not a single person now if he once represented Miss Piggy against the battery charges filed by her ex-husband Kermit. Where are we when the world can’t be relied upon for consistency, the characters behave however needed for bizarre concepts to be realized, but one character having a coin, a nickle, is a mark for the plot to progress? THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, a genre show almost exclusively aimed at young females and airing on a considerably small network, has taken more of the 18-49 viewership than a major network comedy custom tailored to those exact ages. It’s no surprise to me, seeing how little care and regard has gone into maintaining COMMUNITY as a viable option for new and old fans alike who feel that their support and time should be compensated with reliability and humor. Instead, the show delivers on a weekly basis a drastically inconsistent image of adults behaving like discipline challenged elementary school students because the adults behind the camera feel a need to do whatever they want, because they can.

At the end of the day it’s up to all individuals to decide what they want to put into themselves, and those with the word “subjective” at the tip of their tongues may have no qualms with the dizzying spinning that COMMUNITY spews forth and attempts to sell as jokes. Personally, I’d rather experience objective goodness with characters that are more than outlines and shells, worlds that have real physics and gravity, with nearly any other offering on television right now, including the stale saltine cracker that is WHITNEY. But I won’t, even though saltines are good when there’s vomit. More than anything else, I’m just disappointed. Not in the structure of the show or how it’s being made even a quarter as much as no longer enjoying something I once thought terrific. I’ve been forced to dump friends in my life for being so stuck up their own asses that they never noticed the walls they were walking into and watching COMMUNITY fills me with a similar feeling, and that is why I parted ways. The study group should take a hint and do the same because they have nothing left to offer each other, or the viewers at home who are starting to notice.

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